ONTARIO LEGISLATIVE HIGHLIGHTS

February 3, 2017


WEEKLY ROUNDUP

THAT’S RICH  Executive compensation is always a touchy subject, even more so as income inequality takes hold as a major social issue of our time. And still more so when taxpayers are footing the bill and governments are preaching austerity to resolve fiscal shortfalls. Such is the minefield the Ontario Liberals find themselves in as a five-year salary freeze on public sector management is due to be lifted at the end of March. Significant raises for executives, such as top management at Ontario Power Generation, puts the Liberals in the uncomfortable position of defending hikes for people already seen to be making good coin, at least from the average worker’s perspective. Treasury Board President Liz Sandals found out just how hard it is to make that case when she was asked how commuters might feel about OPG chief executive Jeffrey Lyash potentially getting $3.8 million. “Most of the people sitting on the GO train probably don’t have high-level nuclear qualifications or the business qualifications to run a multi-billion-dollar corporation,” Sandals surmised. “The talent is exceptional to be in those exceptional positions.” Cue PC Leader Patrick Brown, who lashed out at the remarks as “condescending (and) disparaging.” All of this forced Premier Kathleen Wynne to try and put a lid on the controversy, suggesting she won’t allow “unreasonably high” raises. “Agencies must strike the right balance,” she asserted. “They need to keep and attract great talent, with the right expertise, while ensuring that salaries are fair and appropriate … In cases where employers fail to comply, we would refuse salary increases.”

AWKWARD AND UPWARD – After Toronto Mayor John Tory’s rant last Friday about Wynne nixing the city’s plans for road tolls – “It is time that we stop being treated, and I stop being treated, as a little boy going up to Queen’s Park in short pants,” Tory huffed – he couldn’t exactly be warm and fuzzy three days later.  But neither could he avoid a face-to-face meeting, with their regular monthly meeting looming on the public schedule. That went ahead on Monday, but with one symbolically glaring twist:  Rather than their usual joint news conference afterward, they met with the media separately.  Tory wasn’t shy about why he hightailed it out of the Legislature for the comfort of City Hall, explaining he felt it was “better to stand here and talk to you myself and to avoid the potential awkwardness of getting into a lot of this kind of stuff … with the two of us standing there.” While their previously cozy relationship has clearly taken a hit, both were careful to position the dispute as more of a spat than a full-blown political divorce. Tory explained that he was “just trying to say it couldn’t be business as usual” amid “lingering doubts” about Toronto’s autonomy, but added he was encouraged by Wynne’s apparent support on social housing issues. As for Wynne, she took a sunnier view. “A strong relationship can go through periods of disagreement or issues of disagreement and come out on the other side even stronger, so that’s how I see the relationship with the City of Toronto,” Wynne offered. “I don’t think this is about a broken relationship. I know it’s not.” Meanwhile, her cabinet was all smiles this week, publicly praising the decision to kill tolls – adding credence to reports of an internal revolt forcing Wynne to withdraw her support for Tory’s plan.

MEDIC ALERT – One relationship that certainly is broken is in Ontario’s doctor community. Locked in a years-long battle with the province over a new contract, internecine fighting within the Ontario Medical Association is creating huge rifts – which may or may not be advantageous to Queen’s Park. A special meeting of the OMA’s governing council last Sunday had the worst possible outcome from an internal perspective. A motion to oust the organization’s executive failed to get the two-thirds support it needed, but did garner more than half the votes, leaving nobody satisfied. All of this infighting has cleared a path for the Ministry of Health – in the absence of a formal contract – to basically impose its will, which is only adding to physicians’ frustration. Health Minister Eric Hoskins has become Public Enemy No. 1 for many docs, and leaders of the splinter factions are openly talking about “job action” to force him to budge. So far there have been no specifics about what that action might entail, but if patient care starts to be affected, the public relations war – which so far Hoskins and the Ministry seem to be winning, or at least playing to a draw – would dramatically escalate.

STAY IN SCHOOL – Job action by teachers, which is always a nightmare for governments, appears to be much less of a threat. Most of Ontario’s education sector unions have now agreed to two-year contract extensions, taking them through August 2019 – which, significantly, is beyond next year’s provincial election. Assuming the union representing high school teachers, which is still at the bargaining table, reaches a similar agreement, the Liberals can claim a major victory. Not only can they point to labour peace in schools as a key accomplishment, they can also potentially tap into the formidable on-the-ground resources teachers can offer when they’re on-side.

SOO LOOKOUT – Two of the three main players in the pending Sault Ste. Marie by-election are now in place, with the NDP nominating local City Councillor Joe Krmpotich as the party’s candidate. More so than in other recent by-elections, New Democrats believe they have a real shot at winning, having held the riding between 1985 and 2003. It was also a Progressive Conservative bastion for decades prior to that, so the Tories are also gearing up for a spirited run. Their candidate has been in place since November, when lawyer Ross Romano, also a City Councillor was nominated – before anyone knew there would be a by-election, necessitated by the Christmas-time resignation of Liberal cabinet minister David Orazietti. At the moment, though, there is no official by-election campaign for Krmpotich and Romano to run in, and there won’t be until the third major slot is filled. Premier Wynne has until the end of June to call the by-election, and will obviously wait until her Liberals have chosen a candidate before setting the date.

ANTI-SOCIAL – As has become the norm, U.S. President Donald Trump was an unavoidable presence in Ontario politics again this week.  But while the Liberals and NDP are free to openly attack his policies – which they did, vociferously decrying his ban on immigrants from seven mostly-Muslim countries – PC Leader Brown is having to manage some backlash. Trump sympathizers in Ontario would presumably gravitate toward the Tories, and Brown will accept their votes, but he most assuredly does not want them setting his agenda. Much to his chagrin, that appears to be a motive for some ostensible supporters, such as the heckler at a party rally in Stittsville wearing a “Make Ontario Great Again” hat – a blatant riff on Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Guy Annable, who proudly described himself as an “angry white man,” repeatedly interrupted Carleton PC candidate Goldie Ghamari by yelling social conservative rhetoric, then defended his stance by asserting, “Somebody’s got to keep the conservative in this party.” Annable wasn’t alone in sideswiping Brown at the event. Jay Tysick, whose nomination bid was vetoed by the party, and a few others made a show of ripping up their PC membership cards at the meeting. Even Brown’s condemnation of the Trump travel ban, in the form of a Twitter post supporting refugees coming to Ontario, was met with barbs from the extreme right, castigating him for being too mushy. On the other hand, given that polls continue to show him with a commanding lead, Brown’s ongoing rift with the SoCon fringe might actually be helping him – handing him opportunities to reinforce the moderate image he wants to project.

FOR THE RECORD

“The PCs would rather have Homer Simpson running our nuclear power plants than the best and the brightest technical operators in the world.”

  • Dan Moulton, spokesman for Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault, defending plans to increase salaries at Ontario Power Generation, as a five-year pay freeze for non-union public sector management is lifted. The Ontario Tories have vowed to review public sector executive salaries if they’re elected next year.

“Any leader who doesn’t listen to those voices, doesn’t listen to the team … isn’t actually leading.”

  • Premier Kathleen Wynne, admitting that pressure from her caucus and cabinet – particularly from the 905 area – was a factor in her decision to thwart tolls on Toronto expressways.

“Premier Wynne thought tolls were a great idea, until she saw her poll numbers. She’s desperately bleeding support across the province, so now it’s polls before tolls.”

  • PC MPP Raymond Cho, one of many Tories – who opposed the tolls right from the get-go – castigating Wynne for the reversal.

“Like millions of our American neighbours, we believe that a ban against individuals based on religion, race, or country of origin must never be tolerated by Canada. President Trump’s actions are disastrous for innocent people and put the lives of thousands of vulnerable refugees at risk.”

  • NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, in an open letter to the Premier, calling for Ontario to be declared a “sanctuary province,” guaranteeing that public services will be available to all residents regardless of immigration status.

“First responders and jurors are the bookends of the justice system, and the law is the glue that binds it all together. I’m really proud of being a juror. I’m proud of the role that I played in delivering justice that day, but it did take a toll on me and my family, and does still to this day.”

  • Former juror Mark Farrant, who served on the jury of a first degree murder trial and suffered PTSD as a result of the experience, praising a new government initiative to offer free counselling to jurors who sit through particularly graphic trials and coroner’s inquests.
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